Lots at stake in
SF Pride board vote
by Gary Virginia
As I complete my second year as volunteer president of San Francisco Pride, I want to share the remarkable improvements the organization has made and caution those who seek to undermine it.
The dramatic shift in improved governance, financial management, and mission-focused activities is a direct result of the change in board leadership in October 2013 and executive management in January 2014. Critical to these gains were proper hiring, and building the board to focus on competence, ethics, diversity, and a clear understanding of Pride's charter to produce one of the largest LGBT parades and festivals in America.
Shortly after the 2013 board was seated, a national search for an executive director resulted in the hiring of George Ridgely in January 2014. In five months he assembled a top-notch team, created internal checks and balances, and managed a successful event with a fiscal year-end profit of $218,164. Immediately the board created a $100,000 operating reserve, and recently added $50,000, with a goal to build it to $300,000 by 2020. After a very successful 45th anniversary parade and celebration, another profit is forecast for 2015 in spite of unexpected costs such as a 29 percent rent increase and $70,000 insurance increase.
Also in 2013, the board created an ad hoc committee to address the 2010 San Francisco Controller's Office Assessment – which evidenced numerous financial, management and governance flaws – and by January 2014, a comprehensive report detailing the implementation of recommendations was published. Actions taken included rebuilding senior management, improving policy documentation and contracts, board training on financial oversight and implementing a $500 "give or get" fundraising policy, and more. Community confidence was enhanced by completing the 2013 audit, proper tax filings, and publicly posting IRS Form 990s.
Concerns over the grand marshal selection process, board elections, and transparency have dissipated after two years of proper actions. A diverse and qualified group of people and organizations have been honored, reflective of Pride's mission "to educate the world, commemorate our heritage, celebrate our culture, and liberate our people."
A 2009 CompassPoint study outlined many challenges facing the organization and recommended diversifying revenue streams to reduce dependence on event income. To that end, I created the SF Pride Society of Supporters donor club in 2014 and produced May's Pride kickoff benefit that doubled our donor base and netted $24,000 without tapping any of Pride's existing sponsors.
With an eye to improve messaging and develop another revenue stream, the board chose our theme art/logo strategically the last two years and partnered with Hard Rock Cafe to revamp our merchandise program, netting $25,000 in proceeds.
Other significant actions to stabilize and improve the agency since 2013 included: creating a two-year production consultant position to support a smooth transition for the new event director and executive director; securing new and expanded pro bono legal counsel from Sheppard Mullin; upgrading office infrastructure; doubling insurance coverage; adding a deputy executive director position this June to support development, membership management, and succession planning for executive leadership; and creating a Whistleblower Protection Policy and Community Advisory Board Policy.
Under proper management, Pride dispersed $167,150 to 66 community partner organizations in 2014 and $166,690 to 60 groups in 2015. Supporting the broader community, Pride participated in the SF Office of Economic Analysis of large, outdoor events, which showed that SF Pride generates $357.1 million for the local economy.
Fast forward to Pride's upcoming annual general member meeting on September 12, where the 2016 theme will be chosen and the election for seven board seats (three vacant) will be held. Due to misunderstandings and discontent over two of Pride's 60-plus sponsors in 2015, members of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and My Name Is campaign worked in tandem to bloat Pride's membership from 250 in June to now 889 eligible voting members. Accusations on social media of "whitewashing and corporate grandstanding" are being used to motivate members to vote for a new Pride board.
Ironically, those who decry corporate sponsors (providing 40 percent of Pride's $2 million budget), offer little to no help in fundraising or supporting Pride's other revenue streams.
I concur with the Bay Area Reporter 's June 2013 editorial that stated, "For the naysayers who want to do away with corporate sponsors: that's just unrealistic. It's a priority for Pride to be a free event, and the only way that is possible is by finding funds to cover the costs for 22 stages, entertainment, portable toilets, clean-up, security, medical services, etc., not to mention paying the contractors who oversee every aspect of the festivities, from managing the parade to lining up the live acts. San Francisco is a world-class city that deserves a free world-class Pride, and that's what the sponsorships provide."
For 45 years, SF Pride has embraced a spirit of inclusion, diversity, and building alliances to advance our movement. Banning company LGBT employee groups defies that philosophy. And denying sponsorship is a last resort for companies intentionally causing harm to the LGBT community who are unwilling to work with SF Pride on improvements.
If the community treasures SF Pride and wants it to be there for future generations, it needs to stop using it as a political football, and get on the team as a volunteer, donor, or "active" member. In the coming year we'll be developing a strategic plan to guide us through a successful 50th anniversary in 2020. The organization deserves diverse, ethical, competent directors with skills, without an ax to grind.
Gary Virginia is the president of the board of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee.